Happy Holidays

The White Elephant in the Room is Under the Christmas Tree

Christmas commercialism getting you down? Once again, stores are filled with all manner of things that I don’t need or have any interest in buying. There comes a point in life where acquiring “more stuff” just isn’t important anymore. Your husband’s workshop is filled with too many tools. Your Mom spent the whole month of October cleaning her kitchen cupboards and donating to Goodwill. And your own closets and drawers are so stuffed with blouses, jackets, and winter sweaters that you couldn’t begin to squeeze in even one more. So what do you do when your family reaches the saturation point? Maybe it’s time for a “white elephant” Christmas.

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What is a white elephant Christmas you ask? Instead of spending a fortune on new gifts from the mall, you acquire your gifts for each other by “shopping” at home for things that are still nice but which you no longer use or want. You buy gifts at secondhand stores, garage sales, and flea markets. You make your own hand made gifts or upcycle something old into something new and different. You rethink, recycle, reuse, refurbish,  and regift, and then you reward yourself by not having a mailbox filled with bills in January. Retailers aren’t going to like it much. But it’s good for your wallet and it’s also good for the environment.

Before you go off on a re-gifting spree however, you must have the discussion with your family. You can’t give recycled gifts without everyone being on board. If you have children in your family you are probably still going to mall shop for them. And there will likely be friends, neighbors, and co-workers that won’t be a part of your white elephant plan. Know too, that there are people out there who would call this whole idea “cheap” and even “tacky.” If your family is one of those and isn’t open to the idea, you are out of luck. If they are open to it, you are all in for a lot of fun!

My family not only agreed to have “white elephant” Christmas this year but they are enthusiastic about the idea. All of us already have more than we need and we were all happy to know we’d be saving some money this year. Since we don’t have to shell out retail prices for the things we give, we can give each other more than we would otherwise. And let’s face it, bargain shopping is a lot more fun!  Oh sure, Santa will still bring the kids their new video games and toys. But there’s no reason the kid’s gifts from family have to be brand new. I’ve had lots of luck finding secondhand store board games and jigsaw puzzles that are still new and factory sealed. And instead of one $10 book from the bookstore, how much more fun would my grandson have going through a whole gift bag filled with ten different used books that I found for a dollar each?

IMG_2255So how do you begin to shop at home? Just open your eyes! If I look at my DVD rack I will discover several new, never opened movies. I might pull out a World War II John Wayne classic for my dad. A Disney movie could go to my niece. I have a couple of Spencer Tracy movies that I watched once but probably will never watch again. My mother would enjoy them. I pull them out and stick them in gift bags. I do the same thing with my rack of music CD’s. If I have anything new or almost new that I know someone else would enjoy it goes into their gift bag. I have new candles that have never been burned. I have some antique serving bowls that my sister has always admired. There’s a new flashlight still sealed in its shrink wrap package, a beaded evening bag used just once, a nice antique cookie jar, an unopened kit for making candy, vintage pillowcases that are still quite beautiful, lots of camping gear that we’re never going to use, and two pair of winter driving gloves that I’ve never worn just because I already have two other pair. None of this stuff is really what I’ve found in my house. I don’t want to give away my Christmas secrets to my family readers! But you get the idea. The point is to find in your home, just as you would in the store, things that your family members are going to like and enjoy having for themselves. Things that you no longer want or need.


Once the home shopping is exhausted, it’s time to think about doing some upcycling. Upcycling involves taking something old and refurbishing it into something new and different. What it does is keep your throwaways out of the landfills. If something worn out can be put back into service, it won’t be taking up space in our planetary garbage can. Maybe paint those old reindeer ornaments with glue and sprinkle them with glitter. Cut a hole in a small wood box to make it functional and paint it up like a birdhouse that can be placed outside. If you’re like me you’ll get sidetracked. I make more projects for myself than for my gift recipients.

Christmas is coming however, so you need to get with it! If you bake pies or cookies your non-baking friends and family are going to be happy with the gift of homemade treats. If you sew or quilt or knit or crochet, there are many different projects you can make using up your fabgingermanric remnants or leftover balls of yarn.

Secondhand stores are filled with interesting bargains. If you don’t have a gift for someone in your house you are sure to find something interesting at a secondhand store or flea market.

My family is not poor. This is not about how much money we all have or don’t have. And if there’s something that I really want I’m sure my husband or daughter will buy it for me. A white elephant Christmas is more like a game. It’s a fun competition to see who can come up with the most interesting giveaways. And it’s also fight against our societies never ending consumption of material goods.

Save the cash. Save the stress. Put some white elephants under your own tree this year.

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